This article on Harp Therapy was originally published in Magical Blend’s Summer 2002 Natural Beauty & HealthMagazine ,
It is gratefully republished here with permission. The magazine is no longer published
Don’t Stop Playing
She felt a tap on her shoulder. The doctor whispered into her
ear, “Pythagoras said that music heals. Please don’t stop playing.”
She had asked to be allowed to play the harp for her father, who was not
expected to live through the night, in the hospital’s ICU “as a final
gift to him”, and had been given permission to play for five minutes.
But then no one had asked her to stop – the monitors were showing that
her father’s vital signs were beginning to improve. His oxygen
saturation level was rising; his heart rate and breathing were moving to
within less critical limits. After playing for her father day and
night for a week, he was out of danger, and Laurie Riley decided to make
therapeutic music the focus of her life.
Stella Benson was playing the harp to an unresponsive elderly man
in the oncology ward; a man about 70 or 80 years old. He had many
tattoos. At one point she noticed he was no longer staring at the wall
but had turned his gaze upwards towards the ceiling. A moment before,
she had sensed a need to change the mood of her playing. He had a
different expression, as if he were looking at something. “It was the
closest thing to ecstasy I’ve ever seen,” she said. “He was in a place
that was unimaginable.” Then she noticed him taking a breath. His eyes
closed. A tear formed in the corner of his eye and then rolled down his
cheek. It had been his last breath. His color changed, and she realized
that he had made his transition. “I sensed something of the mystery was
present,” she said.
Who has not been charmed and elevated by the sound of the harp!
Mythology abounds with tales of the magical healing properties of the
harp. Orpheus softened the heart of the Hades to release his beloved
Eurydice. David with his harp was the only one able to soothe the
troubled soul of King Saul.
Virtually every visitor to my workshop recalls a memory of a harpist or performance with the words angelic, soothing, relaxing or healing. What
are the secret qualities that make this instrument, above all others, an
icon of healing?
The harp is a harmonic instrument. So is the human being. The harp has the same range of frequencies as the human body. When you pluck a string on a well- tuned harp, not only does that note sound forth, but the
whole harp sings. The other strings resonate and echo creating a ringing
sound as the overtones are activated. There are two principles of
physics at work here:
1) When a string is plucked, not only does that note (called the
fundamental) sound, but also the harmonics or overtones. These are a
series of notes that also sound, beginning with the octave, the fifth
above that, the fourth above that, etc., each progressively quieter.
These frequencies of sound result from the division of the vibrating
string into wavelengths of diminishing sizes, all happening
2) The other principle is that of resonance, or entrainment. If you were
to activate a tuning fork and place another of the same frequency in
close proximity, it too would begin to vibrate. Itzhac Bentov in
Stalking the Wild Pendulum, describes how the pendulums in a room full
of grandfather clocks all synchronized after 24 hours even though they
all started out at different rates of swing.
Practitioners of vibrational healing today have at their disposal an
array of devices and machines that “tune” various parts of the body to
specific frequencies to “remind” them of their natural resonant
frequency. (See the article on Sound Wave Energy in the premier issue of
Magical Blend’s Natural Beauty & Health ) . Some use crystals,
aromatherapy, flower essences, sound, color, etc. These modalities all
use this principle of resonance. Because everything is energy, and made
up of vibration, the resonance effects a healing.
Sarajane Williams, harpist, psychologist, and editor of the Harp
Therapy Journal, , has been treating patients suffering from pain,
stress, anxiety and depression using the acoustic harp plugged into a
vibro-acoustic table. The harp music is not only perceived through the
auditory sense, it is felt kinesthetically throughout the body. .She
has documented the results of her work in the journal. She quotes D.
Estes as saying “No other vibrating medium (strings) except water
produces such a full complement of harmonics – and the graphed wave-form
of a plucked harp string approximates that of the human voice. The very
special wave shape is the sound-equivalent of white light”.
(Quoted from “The Harp As a Divine Communication Tool”, The Harp Therapy Journal, vol. 3, no.3).
Our physical bodies are mostly water. Memory and order are held and configured in the cells of our body and in the molecular structure of
the water in our intra- and extra-cellular fluid. Modern research into
the molecular structure of various formulated waters is revealing that
cellular communication is achieved through resonance and the standing
waves generated in the water’s microcrystalline structure. When a harp
is played, especially in the hands of a trained practitioner who can
adapt the mood of the music to the physiological, emotional, and mental
state of the patient, the message, or reminder, of order and harmony is
delivered to the patient even at the cellular level. Music is an
expression of order. It is made up of melody, rhythm, and harmony in
time and therefore entrains a state of order in the patient’s body
Even beyond the range of the human ear, the inaudible harmonics align and entrain the subtle bodies of the listener, producing a harmonious
state in the mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies. Many patients
report associations, memories, and states of awareness that arise while
listening to the harp. Perceptions and blocks to wholeness become
available to be cleared and transformed through this surfacing, and the
music is the medium that carries them away. For those in transition,
the music becomes the current in which the dying patient is transported
into an expansive state of oneness with the Light so they can
experience the dissolution of all barriers to Reality and timelessness.
There is a growing body of literature that attests to the healing and
therapeutic value of music, much of it backed by solid medical and
scientific research done in hospitals and research facilities. Music
therapists have been active in investigating the physiological effects
of music. This body is being enlarged to include research into the
specific contribution of the harp. Nurses, doctors, and
anesthesiologists have recorded diminished need for pain and anesthesia
medications before or after surgery; elevation of oxygen saturation
levels, stabilization of EKG and EEG patterns, improvement in
respiration rates and marked decrease in stress measured by reduced
cortisol output. Whole teams of caregivers report how the sound of the
harp being played in a hospital ward, lobby, or even ICU affects even
their own level of tension.
Amy Camie, a harpist in St. Louis, Mo, and Dr. William Collins,
psychologist and neurotherapist, are shortly to conduct research into
the effects of harp music on cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Dr Collins has already recorded marked reduction in beta waves and
elevation of alpha waves by connecting patients to an EEG in a pilot
project. Joyce Beukers, a pastoral counselor and harpist at the
Hospice of The Valley in Phoenix AZ, is currently engaged in a pilot
study to assess the role of the harp in pain management. The data from
these studies can then be used to provide supportive evidence for
applying for future grant funding, specifically a National Institute for
Health proposed research project. Other projects in Oregon and Florida
are receiving grant money to conduct scientific studies of the
beneficial effects of the harp.
The harp is a therapeutic tool, not only for the listener, but also the
player. Dr Ron Price, the founder of Healing Harps was able to overcome
a physical disability by playing the harp. He has spent over thirty five
years working with people who are challenged by pain, illness, and
disability. “Though 65 -75 percent of the members of the program are
challenged by disabilities or health problems, ” he says, “it is clearly
the harp, music, and musicianship that unites them.” Today many of the
members are playing in hospitals, with the elderly, in churches,
synagogues and temples, with shut-ins, the incarcerated, the homeless,
the abused, with the dying and the very young.”
Christina Tourin, like Laurie Riley, a harpist for many years, also
found herself in the ICU playing the harp for her father. Two months
after emergency by-pass surgery, he was still unresponsive, and it
seemed they were going to lose him. She had been playing soothing harp
music much of this period, but on this particular day, something moved
her to play “Satin Doll”, a jazz tune. All of a sudden the intensive
care nurse said to her, “Keep playing, keep playing, his life force is
coming back!” His big toe had started to wiggle with the rhythm of the
Both Laurie Riley and Christina Tourin began volunteering their
services at the hospitals. Soon each felt there was a need to train
other harpists to fill the growing need. They both started to share
information on the work they were pioneering, and in 1994, unbeknownst
to the other, they each announced, in the same issue of the Folk Harp
Journal, the programs they had developed. Laurie Riley co- founded
the Music For Healing and Transition Program (with Martha Lewis), and
now works as a consultant to other emerging programs. Stella Benson is
the executive director of the program. “Christina founded the
International Harp Therapy Program which is based in San Diego in
conjunction with the world leading teaching San Diego Hospice. They
have conducted a pilot research program for the past two years and have
collected data on the effects and benefits of therapeutic harp music
for patients and caregivers. Their goal is to have a harp player for
every hospital and hospice by 2020. She says: “the benefits of sound
healing are far too great to be overlooked in our evolutionary conscious
development”. Christina is also working on initiatives outside of the
USA. Today new programs are springing up around the country and abroad,
some connected with the growing hospice movement. And the demand for
clinically trained therapeutic musicians is growing.
And yes, the harp is even being used as a therapeutic instrument with
animals. Sue Raimond is the founder and director of Pet Pause.
Bio-Whitaker funded an album for use with their animals and the U.S.
Army Medical Institute of Research for Infectious Diseases has expressed
interest in using her skills with the harp to alleviate stress and
suffering amongst the animals. Other agencies are anticipating upcoming
work and research with the harp. She has told some amazing tales of her
experiences with animals that are kept for medical research in
Imagine riding the subway to work to the sound of harp music; or
sitting in the dentist’s chair while harp music relieves your anxiety.
Or imagine rushing from gate to gate to catch your next connection at
the airport while a harpist sits in the lobby, reminding you to take a
deep breath of that healing essence. Tell your dentist, your doctor,
your clinic, your sick friend or the family of a terminally ill patient
that this wonderful experience is available. One day we will have a
peaceful world, one note at a time.
I am grateful to the Harp Almanac, 1999 for permission to quote from
various articles on Harp Therapy. The 1999 Harp Almanac featured a
spotlight on Therapeutic Harps and Healing Harps in that edition.
A fourth program, The Chalice of Repose Project in Missoula MT
requested not to be included in this article. They are no longer in existence (2005)
Contacts: I am grateful to the following for information and permission
to quote from articles and interviews they kindly gave me. Please note that these links may not be current as they were attached when the article was originally written.
Some updated links may appear on the links page on the new www.Harpsoflorien.com website. :
The Harp Almanac, Maxemilian Productions, PO Box 40070, St Paul, MN
55104, (800) 985 8040, (651) 227 6041 email : harpmusic @musicmax.com or c/o Sunita@sunitaharp.com
Dr. Ron Price, Healing Harps, 4302 Carol Ave., Cortland, IL 60112
(815) 758 2228. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Christina Tourin, The International Harp Therapy Program, , PO Box
333, Mt. Laguna, CA 91948 (619) 473 0008 email: HarpRealm@aol.com
Sue Raimond, Pet Pause, PO Box 1242, Pine Valley, CA,91962 (800) 971
Amy Camie, email: email@example.com
Melinda Gardner, Music for Healing & Transition Program,, 22 West End
Road, Hillsdale, NY 12529 email: firstname.lastname@example.org web:www.mhtp.com
Stella Benson, NewGrail Media, PO Box 31357, Seattle, WA 98103 email:
email@example.com web: www.healersway.com.
Sarajane Williams, The Harp Therapy Journal, 9 East 3rd Street,
Bethlehem, PA 18015 (610) 317 8711 email: firstname.lastname@example.org web: